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Another fine mess

Posted by Richard Thursday, April 28, 2011


It was all going to be different under the Tories, wasn't it? All these procurement messes, like the Nimrod, the Eurofighter, the Type 42, the A400-M, the Chinook. They were all Labour cock-ups ... except that they were all initiated by the Tories.

Now that Labour have returned the compliment, and saddled the Tory administration with a seaborne version of the Eurofighter, doubtless the Tories will be complaining equally bitterly about their legacy, the latest development being a new price-hike for the new carriers for the Royal Navy.

This, we learn from diverse sources is to be about £1 billion, just announced by the consortium building the ships, bringing the ship-building costs to £6 billion.

That figure, though, is not likely to be the final asking price. It is expected to escalate to £7 billion before the hulls even get wet. And since only one of the carriers is actually expected to see service, the effective cost of the capability is roughly £2 billion more than the cost of the bigger, more capable Gerald Ford nuclear carrier for the US Navy.

The proximate cause of the current price hike is the decision to fit catapults and arrester gear. That is to accommodate French Navy Rafales, although the fiction is being maintained that we are still considering buying the US F-35. Even without the Kermits though, the costs of the American aircraft are soaring out of control, so buying that kit really is a non-starter. There is also the embarrassing problem of trying to get out of the £400 million contract for three prototypes of an aircraft we do not now want.

This really does underline the modern-day British genius for getting less for more. But, having developed this to a fine art by paying over £1 billion for Type 45 Destroyers which were originally costed at half that price, we should not be at all surprised that the carriers are also going to cost twice as much, for half the originally planned capacity.

Nor is it in the least a surprise that were are cosying up with the Kermits on this. This is something we predicted would happen five years ago, and with Euroslime Dave at the helm, the pace of integration has quickened.

The only consolation here is that, by most recent form, our skills at ballsing-up defence procurement have reached such rarefied heights that, by the time we come to fit out the second carrier (the one that is actually going to be used), the price will have escalated so much, and the technical problems will have magnified so greatly, that it will probably be cancelled anyway.

Do remember, there is no theoretical limit to the number of times our gifted civil servants and politicians can screw up, a fact they seem determined to remind us of at every opportunity. As long as we keep paying them instead of hanging them from the lampposts of Whitehall, this is going to continue. Sooner or later, a decision is going to be unavoidable, purely to ensure our own survival. This cannot go on.

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